Desperate migrants are choosing ever more dangerous sea routes to Europe and using smaller and less seaworthy boats, causing a sharp increase in drowning deaths, warns the International Organization for Migration.
So far this year, at least 631 African migrants have died while attempting to reach Spain, a threefold increase from all of 2017. In one of the deadliest incidents, earlier this month at least two dozen North African migrants drowned in stormy seas near Cadiz, within sight of the Spanish shore.
The European Union’s success in cutting deals to close off the sea routes from Turkey to Greece, and from Libya to Italy, has resulted in an overall drop in the number of migrants arriving on the continent — 128,265 so far this year, compared to almost 187,000 in 2017, and 390,000 in 2016.
But it appears to have had a knock-on effect, pushing the migrants further and further west. Some are now even arriving in the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago 100 kilometres off the Moroccan coast. Migrants are also now being plucked from the sea off the British coast, with at least 76 people rescued from nine boats off Dover over the past two weeks, although it appears that they are making the crossing from France.
Yet despite the concerns over the rising death toll, many European nations seem focused on enacting even tougher anti-migrant policies.
This week, prosecutors in Sicily moved to seize a migrant rescue vessel operated by Medecins Sans Frontières and another aid organization. And soon, Italy’s parliament will vote on a new immigration law proposed by the populist government that will remove humanitarian protections for migrants and block asylum seekers from accessing services. These are moves that UN human rights experts have said will “certainly” violate international law.
Meanwhile in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is ratcheting up his attacks on the European Union, calling it a “transport agency” for migrants that hands out funds and “anonymous bank cards” to “terrorists and criminals.”